If you are not taught to meditate in some formal way, you may not know the concept of “emptiness”. The idea is that if you calm your mind, eventually (believe it or not), it ceases thinking, sometimes for long stretches of time. You can be very awake, very aware, and not thinking in your mind at all.
For most people in Western society, just trying that for a few seconds is impossible. The idea that we are not what we think is foreign to us. The intellect is regarded as “it”, and “reason” as the highest achievement of the “mind”. But total human beings are more than thinking machines. They are more than thoughts followed by more thoughts. At the level of “beingness” there is a keen sense of being alive, being totally aware of what is happening in each moment, that is more vital, more powerful, more real than words can express. In fact, at the level of emptiness that is truly profound, what happens is that you fill up with something that absolutely cannot be described in words.
It is from this vantage point that one can look at thinking and at the mind as if from the outside. The mind is thinking or it is quiet. I observe my mind having thoughts. I am not my thoughts and my thoughts are not me. Most people cannot comprehend this sentence as being meaningful, which is a shame.
The arts, when lived as an expression of the fullness of humanity, express in a non-linear manner that which cannot be expressed through words in an intellectually rational discourse. They step outside that which is purely objective and capture that which is more broadly communicative than any other activity. The commonality of being a person in a body living through time in a life is universal, regardless of the country, the era or the family in which one is born. The uniqueness of being a person in a body living through time in a life is dynamic, not only from one person to another but from one moment to another. No two moments are ever the same nor can they be recaptured. It is through the arts that we are given the opportunity to be in touch with the eternal and the concrete, with the unchanging and the ephemeral. Are the pyramids in Egypt less compelling to us than the mystery of the Grand Canyon, are the skyscrapers of the world less spectacular than the streams of a mountain forest? Only art can allow us to contemplate such questions and perhaps respond with more art of our own.
In a society which regards the cheap and the crass as art, and which has sacrificed the opportunity for the average person to be exposed to art in schools and in public life in order to “save money”, we have created and continue to create the opposite state of mind of that which we seek. Abundance, or prosperity (in terms of monetary gain) is a state of mind, a condition of being. Abundance says that the only “lack” in the universe is caused by greed, by selfishness, by sloth, avarice, deception, and hatred. Truly, all of whatever is needed in order to simply live and live simply exists. It is only when some individuals are successful at hoarding much more than they need in order to assuage their egos that things begin to deteriorate. Not to value art is not to value life itself. Not to appreciate and understand what the arts teach us and why it is important is to trivialize that which makes us finer human beings. Not to desire to know the greatest and grandest of those artists who have illuminated the human condition, in all its messy glory, is not to desire to know who you are as a person. There can be no greater poverty than this, and we are blind to it all.
In order to be full of gratitude when viewing the “Pietá” or hearing “The Rites of Spring” or playing “Stardust” on the piano, we have to first understand how to be empty. It is from this point that we become that which we are grateful for, and take it into our souls as an expansion of our knowledge and identity of ‘self”.
To contemplate art is to contemplate life. To contemplate life is to contemplate the self. To contemplate the self is to lose the self and become empty.